Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Stroll Down Church Street

An Abbey Road Moment

Love for a new place can be such a fun infatuation- full of new things to see, smell, taste.  One excites at the possibilities.  My pulse quickens as I turn each corner unsure of what I'll find, but the exquisite anticipation pushes me forward.

Happy Birthday, Shannon!

On my latest visit to see the grand southern lady of Charleston, South Carolina, I brought family.  Celebrating my brother-in-law, Shannon's, birthday, Greg and I planned a relaxing day in Charleston for my sister, Mandy, Shannon and my niece, Hannah.  Our itinerary:  Arrive and luncheon at Hyman's Seafood on Meeting Street; Drinks and Dinner with Anne and Jackson at the Rooftop Bar and McCrady's.  With our meals taken care of, the rest of our time was spent on a stroll down Church Street...

Hyman's fried shrimp po'boy
Stomachs full to bursting with shrimp po'boys, fried pickles and okra and Bloody Marys or as Greg deemed them- salad in a glass, we start our stroll at Hyman's door; then wander through the Old City Market that begins on Meeting Street and continues to the Cooper River.  This has been a public market since 1807 and holds many delights, but we've seen this before so we quickly pass through it on this very crowded spring break day and duck out midway to enter Church Street.


St. Phillip's Episcopal Church
We must walk around St. Phillip's Episcopal Church with its Roman columns and signature steeple because the building actually extends into the center of Church Street as the parish churches of England commonly did in the 18th and 19th centuries.  I guess they didn't want people to miss the church. Originally built in 1681, it is the oldest congregation established south of Virginia and has a past that reflects the controversial actions of it parishioners.  In fact, its second building was partially funded by proceeds from trade of rum and slaves. When that building caught fire, a young male slave extinguished it and was awarded his freedom for his bravery to the church.  Today, its third incarnation built in 1835 stands as beautiful testimony to survival having lost many artifacts including its bells to build cannons during the Civil War.

French Huguenot Church
Continuing south, we meander pass the French Huguenot Church, the only remaining French Calvinist congregation in America. Also in its third building, the church has survived losing its congregation entirely two times.  Its gothic revival architecture screams French with visions of Notre Dame and Quasimodo ringing the church bells coming to mind.  My favorite tradition of this church's early congregation is the timing of services to match the tides so that members on the plantations could sail over in time for worship.

Broad Street and Church
We cross over Broad Street observing more steeples as we pass.  It doesn't take a lot of brain power to understand how Charleston became known as the Holy City.

Pausing for a photo outside the Heyward/Washington House, we discover that there are historic homes open for tours.  In my earlier trips, it seemed all were privately owned.  I make mental note to stop here on my next visit so I can claim another home where George and I have both been guests.

Speaking of private homes, none are more exclusively beautiful than those on Church Street.  We walk back and forth past wrought iron gates hoping for a glimpse of each flower or vine.  A friendly dog greets us with a wag at one home while the wistful sound of water flowing whispers the secret of a hidden fountain behind another.  My camera cannot capture the vivid colors of all the flowers springing out inside each walled garden nor can I hope to describe the scents that greet us as we get closer and closer to the famous Battery.

The floral scents fade as the salt air takes control.  Our leisurely stroll has paid off with the Battery (pronounced Bat-Ree).  Church Street dumps us out at the tired-est grand dame on the street.  With her flaking facade and wilting vines, I stare at her willing her to talk- to tell me some of the things she has seen: human beings bought and sold callously by one another; the first shots of a war that ripped our nation apart for four years killing young and old indiscriminately; carpetbaggers, starving children, gallant men and charming southern ladies.  A world not gone with the wind, but hidden just behind the veil.

Pardon my romantic musings.  This is what historic cities do to me... I'm no medium, but I can definitely feel the ghosts.

 And so our stroll down one of America's most beautiful streets ends.  It's time for drinks, food and good conversation.  I wonder if there will be any ghosts dining with us tonight?

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